Civil engineering freshman Seth Santa Maria was scrolling through his phone the night of Jan. 5 when he saw something that piqued his interest.
“I was scrolling through the Cal Poly Campus Dining website when I saw that Korean food won Student Choice,” Santa Maria said. “But it said ‘Build Your Own Ramen.’”
Santa Maria posted a screenshot of the announcement on Overheard at Cal Poly, a Facebook group for Cal Poly students and parents.
“At first I was amused because I felt like it was such a common understanding that ramen is a Japanese food, but after a while, I didn’t understand how this got approved, how this went through so many people, how this was possible,” Santa Maria said.
Within minutes, many students and alumni expressed outrage regarding the Student Choice selection.
“I became really taken aback because I just could not comprehend how ramen was a ‘Korean’ food,” Michael Lee, a business administration sophomore, said. “I understand that there are Korean-style ramen like shin or jin ramen, but I found it unacceptable to see that Campus Dining had mixed up the food. I hope that next time there is actual research of cultural foods associated with the ethnic group.”
After students and parents voiced their opinions on social media, Cal Poly Campus Dining updated their website to show that Japanese food had won Student Choice.
However, there have been no changes made to the Korean features of the ramen at Student Choice, including the Korean chicken broth and kimchi, a Korean staple.
“Changing it to ‘Japanese’ is like putting a band-aid on a broken bone. It ineffectively addresses the mix-up and reveals that Cal Poly lacks cultural diligence,” business administration freshman Amy Ru said.
According to Cal Poly Corporation Communications Specialist Aaron Lambert, Chef Jet Tila, whose work had been featured on Food Network’s Iron Chef America, created the planned ramen-bowl recipe for the quarter.
“Students originally voted for Korean food. After advertisements were deployed, Campus Dining realized that while ramen is a significant staple in Korean kitchens, most of the campus community sees ramen as a Japanese dish,” Lambert said.
Ellen Curtis, Cal Poly Corporation Director of Marketing and Communication, commented on Santa Maria’s Facebook post on the Overheard group apologizing to students on behalf of Campus Dining.
“The Campus Dining website is the culprit. It was not updated correctly and it is an embarrassing mistake. We will work towards doing better in the future,” Curtis said in her Facebook comment.
As of Jan. 10, there have been no official statements released from Cal Poly regarding or apologizing for the cultural mix-up.
On Oct. 17, 2018, Cal Poly Campus Dining sent an email to students with a survey in which they could vote for Thai, Italian, Greek, Vietnamese, Korean, American or Indian food for winter quarter’s Student Choice meal.
Following a democratic approach, chefs whip up a recipe and menu for Student Choice that reflect the students’ most popular selection.
Prior to the start of winter quarter, Cal Poly Campus Dining updated their website announcing that ramen, which they believed to be Korean food, would be served as this quarter’s Student Choice fare.
Priced at $8.50 or one meal credit with a 22 oz. beverage, the ramen is served in a build-your-own fashion. Students are able to select ramen noodles or brown rice; an assortment of toppings ranging from kimchi, green onions, a hard boiled egg and mushrooms; chicken, pork or tofu for protein; and Korean chicken or vegan broth.